note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
Springtime, crisscrossed romance, opportunity and discovery enliven a crumbling English countryside castle in Dodie Smith’s two-act, 2-1/2-hour play, “I Capture the Castle,” that closes Sunday at Stoneham Theatre. Smith is the celebrated author of “101 Dalmations,” and other works. Smith wrote “I Capture the Castle,” set in the 1930s, In 1948, and adapted it for the stage in 1952. It was filmed as a movie shortly thereafter, and its timeless appeal continues.
Besides Richard Chambers’ fabulous two-level set and Rachel Padula-Shufelt’s period costumes, Stoneham Theatre Producing Artistic Director-Director Weylin Symes leads an outstanding cast that sparks Smith’s characters.
Boston’s beloved Marianna Bassham and Philana Mia, (who delighted theatergoers at Central Square Theater awhile back as young Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in “Matt and Ben”), have teamed up again. This time, Bassham is bohemian stepmother Topaz Mortmain and Mia is her gold-digging stepdaughter, Rose. Melis Akers --- originally from Turkey and a senior at Tufts University who also studied at the Royal Academy of Arts --- is blazing her own theatric path here. She’s charming as 17-year-old romantic, smitten teen-ager, Cassandra Mortmain. And distinguished award winner Allyn Burrows bursts with fury as the girls’ once-famous writer dad, James, and Topaz’s husband, whose 14-year writer’s block has reduced him to doing crossword puzzles and reading mystery novels. “He’s a borderline case between genius and madness,” observers say. Lingering in the shadows, donating his earnings to the Mortmains, while shyly adoring Cassandra is handsome young handyman Stephen Colly, whom Joey Heyworth portrays with sensitivity.
As the family’s finances dwindle and the Mortmain women discuss ways to bolster their income, fate accommodates them. The Cottons, a wealthy family from America, composed of energetic Mrs. Cotton (Sheriden Thomas) and her two predictably handsome, available sons, Simon (Dan Whelton) and Neil (Michael Underhill), visit their newly-purchased property and tenants, the Mortmains, changing their lives and expelling their lethargy. Besides their money, the Cottons’ boundless energy, American sense of daring and adventure inspire the Mortmains.
Pretty, eldest daughter Rose is determined to secure the family’s future by enticing older son Simon into falling in love with her. She’s successful, but the twisted finger of fate twirls things around, criss-crossing the brothers’ and sisters’ romances. Aker and Whelton provide tender moments as they dance together and their mutual admiration grows.
Bassham as overly dramatic, bohemian Topaz is in her prime here, as she flits about, communing with nature in an oilcloth raincoat, prancing about in the rain, raising strangers‘ curiosity. Although she‘s affected and flaky, she loves her stepchildren and believes her role in life is to be needed, to provide support to her frustrated, formerly famous writer husband - with a few detours, of course. Topaz is flattered and charmed by younger Aubrey Fox-Cotton’s (John Geoffrion) supercilious attention and takes off for London with him and entourage.
Adding humor and local color to this cast of 14 are Gerard Slattery as the liquor-imbibing, unorthodox vicar; Bernie Baldassaro as compliant younger brother Thomas; and Charlotte Anne Dore as mousey, do-gooder librarian, Miss Marcy.